Home > data portability, foldier > Delivering data portability. Let’s start with managing expectations.

Delivering data portability. Let’s start with managing expectations.

From Mary Trigiani. Yesterday, professional blogger/communicator/producer/journalist Robert Scoble re-visited his personal frustration with his inability to move his personal contacts between networks, websites and, I guess, galaxies.

Mr Scoble was wondering what was taking so long — humorously referring to DataPortability.org as doing little more than PR and as shipping no standards. After that explosive [to me] point, he went on to explain that in asking the question, he has learned something. It’s worth reading his description. He inspired many thoughts, including the personal observations that follow here. Unfortunately, however, many agenda-driven folks have used his turning-point paragraph out of context. So I’d like to pick up where Mr Scoble leaves off.

But first, some disclaimers.

I’m writing from the blog of a startup whose main purpose in digital life is to help people collect, organize, search and share their digital content, whatever it is, wherever it is on the Web or on their hard drives. Data portability is us, although maybe not as commonly defined. foldier technology makes it possible to manage personal content through links to the sites that host it. We make data portable by making it accessible from one place — foldier — while leaving the content where it was created.

I’m an active member of DataPortability.org but I do not speak for the project here. I am weighing in on what I personally believe are misperceptions about the project — because I want the dialog to remain open, even if many of the folks sharing their perspectives do not command the bully pulpit on the same scale as Mr Scoble. [One of my Gods and Goddesses of Blogging.]

One. DataPortability.org is a volunteer, community project. It has attracted experts in all aspects of technology from every avenue of technology — established corporations, startups, hired guns, academics — as well as experts in business, competitive positioning and professional services. Yes, experts. Who work for a living. Who are doing this in their free time, or with the support of their families and employers, or both.

Two. DataPortability.org takes nothing for granted and does not adhere to any one gospel of portability. There has been marvelous work done by many organizations — also grassroots, not-for-profit and/or volunteer — in the effort to examine the multiple aspects of owning and porting personal data. No one organization, however, has been able to command the ongoing attention of the technology community until now. Personally, I think this project has done so because it was founded upon principles of utter transparency, reaching consensus out of disparate perspectives, and constant, two-way communication with all stakeholders [apparently, what a lot of folks would label, derisively, as PR].

Three. Warning — this is a PSA. Let’s stop demonizing PR and using “PR” in place of moron, lightweight or unproductive. As one who has been labeled, derisively, as a marketing chick — just because I am genetically programmed to practice the ancient Italian art of la bella figura — I am sick and tired of folks who make their living by how much PR they receive — not just what they say or, God forbid, the content of their characters — who still use “PR” or “marketing” as ways to describe what they perceive to be fluffy enterprises and individuals. So when DataPortability.org is relegated to the PR bin, not only are the experienced, skilled technologists being derided, so are the liberal artists who really do know how to deliver newsworthy messages, string together meaningful words, articulate real solutions and help insular little geographic clusters communicate with the rest of the world, where, guess what, their ultimate users live. While 90 percent of marketing functionaries are just looking for their next jobs, the other 10 percent add real value.

Four. DataPortability.org’s “deliverables” — can we use the word product, please? include cataloging the aforementioned vast amount of work that’s been done, capturing all the various perceptions of what it means to make data portable, and coming up with suggestions for how to create beautiful standards where there were none. Any code produced will strictly be for the use of stakeholders in examining their options — not for taking one position or another — or to help any one individual wage a personal war. Now, many of the folks who have been laboring in this vineyard for several years will tell you that they know what to do — and they will ask why no one is listening. See Point Two. Somehow, the stars have aligned in the Web 2.0 heavens at this moment to bring together a bunch of people who have — gasp — no agenda other than to explore how to make data portable in a way that respects everyone’s needs, rights and property and who have the ability to talk about it without feeling threatened or leveling personal criticisms at enemies. In fact, the vast majority of the people volunteering in this project don’t look at this as a war — they look at it as an intriguing puzzle or cipher. And something the tech community has to address for the benefit of its users. Those people out there in the rest of the world.

Five. This takes time. Believe it or not, when some of us sit down to address a task, we take at least fifteen minutes to think about it before we proclaim a “deliverable.” For a project like this, where opinions, products and experience are all over the map, literally, and where they haven’t been collected in a way that it could, much less has, reached the masses, it’s going to take time to get you to the solution for your contact-moving problem. I’m ecstatic that Mr Scoble used Dave Morin’s examples of what Facebook must contemplate. Multiply that by, I don’t know, 100?, and you have an idea of the scope of this endeavor.

  1. March 28, 2008 at 4:07 am

    Mary –

    Nicely stated. In a nutshell, the DataPortability Project is struggling with thorny issues and is still learning how to function effectively within a non-centralized, distributed, volunteer environment.

    For my part, I’m totally impressed with how the organic nature of the movement has been growing under the nurturing care of the participants. While we may not be churning out actionable standards or best practices, yet, the “PR” effort appears to be doing a fantastic job of facilitating a much-needed dialog.

    At the very least, the DataPortability Project has been an effective catalyst. Only time will tell, however, what kind of ongoing effect it’ll have. My guess is that if the active participants can keep up the momentum, the project will continue to flourish and deliver more concrete output.

    – Trent

    (PS You have a fun flair for the dramatic, making for a great read.)

  2. March 28, 2008 at 6:37 am

    The goal with this kind of initiative (Data Portability) is to get stakeholders, users, experts, etc involved with the project right from day one. In order to get the awareness that such a project exists, ya gotta use PR; you have to get the word out and get the credible people you need on board.

    The ever present issue with building a community around this kind of project so early in the game, is that there will always be a perceived lack of progress. The design & analysis stages of API development are CRUCIAL and TIME CONSUMING! But they are also stages that don’t produce “products” that people can interact with. Google’s Open Social is going through the same issues… Java went through the same in the early 90’s… lots of hype, but the perception that nothing was being delivered.

    The “do-ers” get this. The users, no matter how technical they feel they are, usually don’t. The users of the world want to use a product, not read specs and learn APIs. As a result, they tend to complain that there’s no progress, when what they really mean is that there is no “perceived” progress.

  3. foldierteam
    March 31, 2008 at 9:49 pm

    Trent and Darryl, your points are excellent. This is definitely as much about exposing ideas and acting deliberately as it is about acting quickly and satisfying the objectives of individual constituencies.

  4. Matteo Fabiano
    April 2, 2008 at 9:06 am

    From the DP.org website FAQ: “DataPortability is not inventing any new standards.” Well, if in fact DP.org’s mission is to “package” a set of existing standards for consumers, businesses, and stakeholders, the project is, at its core a (very ambitious) “communications” project. Oversimplifying, it is, in the best sense possible, a PR operation.

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